In a summer dominated by high-budget superhero blowouts like Man of Steel and Iron Man 3, and creature features such as Pacific Rim, Sebastian Cordero’s Europa Report flies nearly under the radar as a more scientifically accurate and less gory sci-fi thriller. As a kid who frequented Kennedy Space Center and loves all things space, this film was right up my alley. Thanks to Amazon’s rental service, I was able to watch it twice in a row, since it wasn’t playing anywhere near my little city. I doubt the theater would have been full of anything but the occasional true science fan and several rather angry misguided movie-goers shouting “Why ain’t they jumpin’ around like the moon landing? This is bullshit!”
Regrettably, I have to include spoilers here to discuss some of the more pivotal plot points. You’ve been warned – use them together, use them in peace.
Thunderbirds are GO!
Viral marketing for this film began mid-2012, but I only heard of it browsing through the ‘Coming Soon’ IMDb section. As soon as I saw the cast included Embeth Davidtz (Army of Darkness) and Michael Nyqvist (Millenium series), I was onboard. Sharlto Copley (District 9) also appears as unlucky astronaut number one, but I didn’t even recognize him until looking up his name – quite the enigmatic actor, and also the only source of comic relief. Incidentally, Copley is playing the bad guy in Elysium, predicted to be another huge summer blockbuster. Rounding out the cast are Protégé’s Daniel Wu, Karolina Wydra of True Blood fame, Dexter’s Christian Camargo and Romanian actress Anamaria Marinca, who I only hope to see more of in the near future, as her performance was outstanding. Is it just me or does Camargo look like he’s trying to remember something…
Did I leave the iron on?
As with any mission of exploration, the voyage begins with optimism and just a shred of fear, of the unknown and the vast distance from Earth on a journey estimated to take three years. Footage of the launch was recycled from NASA’s Jupiter bound probe Juno, which launched two years ago this week and isn’t scheduled to reach its destination until July of 2016. The found footage medium and documentary styling works extremely well here, an obvious choice given the scientific nature of the venture. Anyone who has watched shuttle launches or feeds from the ISS will recognize the styling, although the film has been greatly cleaned up for the purpose of narrative fiction – I’ve never seen a completely clear image transmitted from our own moon, let alone a moon between 300 and 600 million miles away (elliptical orbits can be a bitch, I’d imagine, in trying to plan space travel).
Take this, it’s dangerous to go alone. No seriously, Jupiter gives off radiation, you’ll die.
Although the explicit purpose of the mission is to determine the sustainability of extraterrestrial life on the frozen moon, Europa Report is not a true creature feature; for the most part, the crew of Europa One battles the elements of space and a radioactive, constantly shifting planet, not a beast from the beyond. The “found” footage, after a dead zone of communication spanning nearly 2 years, jumps around a bit, so I had to pay attention to the orange electronic time-stamps, but it was not as distracting or detracting from the film as it sounds. The haunting, minimalist and borderline industrial soundtrack was pitch perfect, thanks to none other than Bear McCreary who, aside from having one of the most lumberjack-y names in the biz, has scored other “little” projects such as The Walking Dead and Battlestar Galactica.
In space, no one can hear you scream. In the airlock, we hear you just fine.
When things go wrong in space, they go fatally wrong. People die. One of the qualms I had with this flick was the lack of contingency leading to tragic errors and mishaps – if this is NASA-based science, you have to assume they have backup plans in triplicate. Oh, an astronaut on a spacewalk has a toxic substance on his suit? Uh… sorry ‘bout your luck, buddy. Dang, our 80 gajillion dollar heated drill probe broke? Better send the smallest female out on the unstable ice (okay, that part I get) to retrieve it, until she gets distracted by pretty lights under the surface. And who in the name of Io unbuckles during a crash landing on a foreign planet?
Miss Honey – I mean, Davidtz – expounds the virtues of the crew’s sacrifices, the ones they made for each other and those made to keep the mission going, to “push the discovery further.” At the end of it all, this really is a film more about facing insurmountable cosmic odds and certain death, and risking everything to take that step further and share those breakthroughs with the world.
Dropping Science Like A Boss
Red, gaseous moon… you saw me standing alone…
I was disappointed that this film was only a limited release, but after watching it I understand why. It’s too scientific for the average movie-goer seeking mindless popcorn entertainment. Developed with NASA experts for optimal accuracy, Europa Report is as close to fact as science fiction gets. As Dan Fogler explains while discussing the launch of Europa One and the mission to deep space, “NASA discovered heat signatures under an area called the Conamara Chaos.” Fact: heat flow signatures on Europa have been observed and studied which lead NASA (and Neil deGrasse Tyson) to postulate “simple mono-cellular life in our solar system might not just be possible, it might be probable.” Europa has long featured in science fiction as a likely harbor of existence, from Arthur C. Clarke’s Space Odyssey series to anime series such as Gundam SEED and Geneshaft.
Although a manned mission to the smallest of Jupiter’s four Galilean moons is nowhere on NASA’s radar for the near future, robotic exploration has been heavily discussed. In the 1970s, both Pioneer and Voyager probes provided surface images detailing the icy moon, which began the speculation of vast subterranean oceans possibly harboring life. Future explorations have been recommended, but more have been cancelled than continued unfortunately – but much of the technology was recycled for this film, including the proposed use of a thermal drill seeking subsurface bio-signatures.
The husband and I had some disagreement over the clincher of the film, the sub-ice dwelling creature speculated to thrive in the harsh climate. I thought it a bit too “Miskatonic”, but after a friendly debate, the luminescent creature makes sense given the environment it lives in. An essentially blind ice-dwelling invertebrate that reacts to light, creates its own heat signature and is attracted to the surface radiation heat from nearby Jupiter. It’s not out for vengeance against creatures invading its planet, it’s just doin’ what it do – swimming and seeking heat. At best it’s a lucky scavenger of those unfortunate enough to fall victim to the hostile ice planet.
Overall, I’m happy to add this film to my long-term collection – because of the minimal special effects and focus on the humanity of the story instead of big bad aliens, it could very well be timeless, on par with lofty predecessors such as 2001. It’s the thrill of exploration and discovery that drives the film forward, and actually leaves it open for a sequel I doubt will occur, sadly. If the image above was the last thing seen by mission control, after regaining contact with a crew presumed lost, you can guarantee the next launch would be within weeks to pick up where the pioneering crew left off. This film brings the viewer along on the journey to discover there is indeed life out there, and now that we have made the ultimate sacrifices, now what? 4.8 out of 5 – very nearly perfect